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I’ve been defending religion a lot lately. Some people have interpreted that as me being agnostic, which is fine. We all use our own subjective definitions. But the reason some people see me this way seems to often be that they think atheists believe every god objectively does not exist. I’m not an agnostic because that perception seems flawed to me. Not believing in any gods doesn’t necessarily mean you claim to know that no gods are real. For me, I simply don’t think that any gods exist. No one can know anything for sure, and neither can anyone disprove an unfalsifiable proposition.
I just don’t have a problem with religion in general any more. It’s not my business if people choose to be religious, as long as their beliefs don’t impinge on my free expression, and they don’t use faith as an excuse to harm others. A militant atheist would be more likely to intellectually shit all over religious people. They also often claim to have absolute certainty about all gods being invented by the human mind.
However, even anti-theist atheists don’t necessarily offer objective knowledge that no gods exist. We are all individuals who interpret beliefs in different ways. I know atheists who are much more militant than me, but not 100% sure that they’re correct. They just see religion as a bigger problem than me. Another atheist might think they know without a shadow of a doubt that gods are fake. But maybe they are respectful of religious people because they think it’s not their place to change minds.
The one statement that’s probably true about all atheists is that none of us believe in any gods. Other than that, people have their own different definitions.
One point I’ve often made lately is that not all religious people are the same. When you talk with the faithful, a lot of atheists’ perceptions of them turn out to be exaggerated stereotypes. So I’ve recently gained much more respect for religious people.
That being said, there are still many aspects of religion that bother me. People try to push their religion on me sometimes too, which annoys the fuck out of me. Even though probably the minority of believers agree with religious stereotypes, they exist because they’re true for some people.
The culture where I live is very traditional and conservative in some ways, which includes essentially fundamentalist Christian views. I’ve grown up being pressured about religion every now and then. It probably has only happened maybe a dozen times or so. But they’re so intense when they happen that they’re easy to remember.
There are many Christians in my home town, and one central claim of the more pushy religious people who I’ve talked to has been this: You cannot be a good person without believing in the Christian God. Everyone has probably heard this argument before. This is the type of shit that bothers me the most.
I was still Christian when I was a kid, but my parents raised my brother and I with pretty progressive interpretations of the religion. So I was alarmed when I was at school one day, and my friend told my brother and I that you go to Hell if you don’t believe in Jesus. This didn’t make sense to me even though I hadn’t developed my critical thinking abilities. What about people in different religions, like Jews and Muslims?
A few years later, a girl in school was asking everyone if they were Christian. She was one of the popular kids, so no one said “No,” other than one of my friends. I think he said he was an agnostic, and I had no idea what that meant. The girl told my friend that he’s going to go to Hell. I was shocked by that again. Then she asked me if I’m Christian, and I just said “Yes.” I still viewed myself as a Christian based on a complete lack of personal reflection. Also, I had just seen that hostile reaction to disagreement, and I didn’t want to be ostracized by the “cool kids.” So I answered hesitantly, but didn’t even defend my friend.
Since I became an adult, (at least on paper) people have occasionally been pushy about religion, but I’ve rarely had anyone say anything that terrible to me. More recently, my friend’s mom told me that I looked like Jesus because I’ve grown my hair out, and then she invited to me to the baptism of my friend’s kid. I would have gone if my friend had asked me, since it was for her child. I care more about my friends than my lack of belief. But she respects my lack of religion too much for that. Her mom seems to not hear it when my friend tells her that I’m an atheist.
The craziest religious person I’ve ever interacted with is one of my former bosses. He made statements like “He’s a good guy. He reads his bible every day.” Here we go again with assuming that being Christian makes you better, just like claiming that everyone other than Christians go to Hell. The most bizarre thing that he ever said to me happened when he finally asked me if I was an atheist, since I would always just smile and nod when he preached to me. I said “Yes,” and he went into a bat-shit crazy story that was clearly made-up. He said, almost verbatim, “I had a friend who was an atheist once. He went to Hell. Then he saw the error of his ways, found God’s love, and God pulled him out of Hell and up into Heaven.”
That was the most crazy statement that any religious person has ever made to me. I just replied with “Uh-huh,” with a heavy degree of skepticism. I had an unbelievably hard time restraining myself from saying something like “Oh really? You know a dead person? I would love to meet him. Because if you’re telling the truth, you and he both deserve Nobel prizes since you’ve done something that’s pretty much fucking impossible.”
…To Be Continued…